Seven Signs You Aren't Thinking Big Enough

As I continue researching what email subscribers want from companies when they register for email, one theme has come to the forefront that should keep email marketers up at night: Your competition in the inbox is "everyone else."

Toss out the notion of your traditional competition. As a retailer, your competition in the inbox is not limited to other retailers in the same space. As a publisher, your competition is not other publishers addressing the same topic. The inbox is a phenomenal equalizer where companies large and small all face a similar measuring stick, "Do you consistently deliver the most relevant, engaging stuff to my inbox?"

To make the point, in the thousands of email statistics I have looked at in my career, the most impressive program I have ever seen (purely based on response metrics) was from a small business that sells Creative Memories supplies and conducts weekly classes. The program boasts a 90% unique open rate and upward of a 50% unique click-through rate.



Why? The company delivered relevant content to a fanatical subscriber base.

But ironically, the email creative is terrible. Excessive copy, bad color palette, no mobile optimization, and almost never a clear call to action. Even with a 50% click-through rate, there is room for improvement.

I share this to serve as inspiration. There are still enormous opportunities for improvement in your program as well. If you don't know where they are, then you may have run into one or more common roadblocks. Consider this list of sure signs that your thinking isn't big enough.

You compare your performance to industry benchmarks rather than your own benchmarks. Industry benchmarks can be helpful in assessing your performance. Still, these represent the apex of the bell curve: a solid C. Companies that run great programs are more concerned with beating their personal best than beating the C students.

Testing is not part of your strategy. To improve, you need to try new stuff -- a lot! However, change for the sake of change itself usually just perpetuates mediocrity. Give yourself (or your team) the freedom to push the limits while constantly comparing the results of these new approaches against a control. Only then can you be sure you are moving in the right direction.

The goal of your testing is to get statistically significant results. Tests of statistical significance serve a very specific purpose: to determine if the observed difference between two options is real or not. There is always the possibility that there is no real difference between two subject lines (for example). Instead of constantly increasing the size of your test cells to virtually guarantee statistical significance, consider testing another option that will drive a drastically better result than your control.  

Testing link colors. I have seen this factor tested in the past few months -- and it never makes a difference. If the best idea your creative and / or testing team can come up with for improving your creative is to test the color of your links, then fire them. I'm dead serious. You deserve better.

You look for proof before trying something new. One of my best creative ideas was once shot down because I couldn't provide an example of another company that had already employed the approach, even though it was based on relevant insights about my client's audience and they agreed it was a good concept. If you aren't willing to be the first to try something, then you aren't thinking big enough. That's why it's called "early mover advantage."

List growth is your growth strategy. Growing your list is very important, but big lists do not necessarily make successful programs. Consider the example of the Creative Memories reseller above; that program drives more business than many programs with ten times more subscribers.

You are not having fun with your email program anymore. Fun and passion are the core of big thinking. We recently awarded Trendies for exceptional email marketing campaigns in 2010. Not only do these campaigns demonstrate creative passion, but as you can see from the acceptance speeches (see comments), the people running these programs are having a good time.

Breaking through these email marketing roadblocks will help put you on the path to improved performance. Perhaps even more important, it will show your subscribers that you genuinely care about them and your program -- and that's what attracts loyal subscribers.

2 comments about "Seven Signs You Aren't Thinking Big Enough".
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  1. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service, February 2, 2011 at 11:33 a.m.

    "Testing link colors. I have seen this factor tested in the past few months -- and it never makes a difference. If the best idea your creative and / or testing team can come up with for improving your creative is to test the color of your links, then fire them. I'm dead serious. You deserve better."

    HAHAHA - best advice I've gotten from a column in years. Excellent post on a subject that gets more and more tired every week.

  2. Chad White from Litmus, February 2, 2011 at 3:25 p.m.

    Great column, Morgan. I've definitely run into "You look for proof before trying something new" a few times. It's great when "evidence" can be found (even though proof of it working for one company doesn't mean it will work for you), but it's sad when promising ideas are shot down because there's not a case study handy to support the idea. It's a sure-fire way to kill novel thinking.

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